The MCU loves to play with genres. But while the films generally stick to their own single genre (political thriller, sci-fi romp, high fantasy, etc.), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. exercises a certain fluidity with the genre it plays with. No two seasons are alike, and as this season five premiere demonstrates, this is more than the straight sci-fi we expected after we saw Coulson stare into space at the end of season four.

What we have here is a space dystopian horror time travel surrealist mystery.

This two-part episode was just as ridiculous as that previous sentence made it out to be. After a funny and atmospheric cold opening that focused on our unknown captors (good use of The Talking Heads, I must say), the viewers are left with no time no breathe as our favorite agents are sent into one absurd scenario into the next. We are left utterly flummoxed.

But that’s okay, because our heroes are just as confused. Coulson and crew are legends? There’s an alien attacking them all? The Kree are now here? Every couple of minutes, new information is tossed at us. But all of this is lampshaded—our characters comment constantly on the ridiculous state of things; upon learning that they’re in space, Mack seems to make a meta reference to the genre-switching of S.H.I.E.L.D. (“That’s the one thing we haven’t done yet.”). This type of self-referential humor is engrained in the MCU to get the audience to buy the absurd concepts (see: Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy), but the characters’ attitude eventually became grating, with literally every character having to make some sort of witty, sarcastic remark and rolling their eyes.

Jargon is thrown left and right, and whenever our agents are around new characters like Deke and Tess, question marks fly above our heads, like we’ve been thrown into a completely different show we didn’t know we were getting in the middle of its second season. But confusion is fine—more so than previous seasons, this is a pure mystery. The show knows that the audience is smart and doesn’t want to be spoon fed things, and we’d like to think that we’re capable enough to fill in some gaps and speculate away. Information is being kept from us by the writers in a very deliberate fashion.

It all comes across as a Doctor Who episode: our main characters are thrown in the middle of some crazy sci-fi situation, and as outsiders they use their respective knowledge and skills to save the day (and of course, there’s running around corridors). The difference here is that this isn’t a one-and-done “monster of the week” deal like Doctor Who, and we’ll be seeing Deke and the others for some time.

As always, S.H.I.E.L.D. throws some effective and chilling twists on the way. At some point in my note-taking early in the episode, I simply wrote “fuuuture?” Where this thought came from, I do not remember, but my instinct turned out to be right, making the sequence of everyone realizing where (and when) they were all the more satisfying.

The second part of the episode dives into this dire dystopia. The themes of compliance and submission are heavy in this two-parter, with the inhabitants of the Lighthouse having to depend on their “superior” Kree masters for their survival. Although it’s obvious that these sets are cramped because of the network television budget, the claustrophobic environments works to the story’s advantage. The scene of the Kree offering the humans limited food was very Mad Max: Fury Road, and the renewal sequence takes the show into some Hunger Games territory. Nothing too original here, but it’s a fascinating blend of inspirations.

Speaking of inspirations, this Kasius Kree dude is totally Jared Leto in Blade Runner 2049. From his creepy and quiet demeanor to his diatribes about perfection and beauty, I think I can tell what either the showrunners or actor Dominic Rains had seen in theaters lately. The separation of Simmons from the rest of the team allows the show to explore this Kree dystopia from the inside, all whilst our other characters have the more external plot of figuring out how the heck to get back, or save Earth (whichever one it is).

Once Daisy confronts Deke in his strange Inception-esque Framework dream speakeasy, the show attempts to throw yet another plot twist at us—the destruction of Earth in the past was apparently the doing of Daisy’s quakin’. When we first saw the future Earth in pieces, our MCU brains, having watched the Avengers: Infinity War trailer repeatedly, must have instantly thought “Thanos!” But with the show going deeper into its own mythology and taking thematic rather than direct inspirations from the film, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was largely separated from that. Still, something felt off and sudden about this reveal, so much so that it feels like a red herring. I’m not buying it for now.

Visually, the sets are, as I mentioned, Who-esque. They’re decent and passable for what the episode was trying to do. The CGI really worked for me, however. From the crawling “Roach” to the entire spaceship sequence with May and Simmons, the show seemed to be aiming for movie-quality.

So to sum up, I have absolutely no idea what is happening. The ambiguity, vagueness, and the overall breakneck speed may alienate (heh) many, but consider me compelled to find out more. Welcome back, S.H.I.E.L.D. I sure did miss you.


VERDICT

4 Kree Death Balls Out of 5. Utterly confusing, but there is certainly enough excitement and intrigue to create a foundation for this time-travel space story arc.

ONE-SHOTS

  • Loved the casual talk of the soldiers/guards outside the diner.
  • Very smart and humorous nod at the S.W.O.R.D. theories with Yo-Yo’s “S.P.E.A.R.” line.
  • The brief, bizarre and surreal moment with the Monolith made me think that the writers have also seen the new Twin Peaks revival over the summer.
  • “I’m not Inspector Gadget.”
  • Simmons went all Thor with “magic is just science we don’t understand yet.”
  • God, I miss Fitz (my personal favorite character). The show is smart in keeping Fitz-Simmons conflicts external rather than depending on melodrama, but the writing doesn’t need to explicitly reference this as it did in a conversation between Simmons and Daisy.
  • “This has to be the coolest we’ve ever looked” looked very Scooby-Doo.
  • Okay, Yo-Yo’s arms should be freaking dead from that freezing, shouldn’t they be?
  • The fact that Sharknado is a historical document to future humans is funny (and troublesome).
  • Is that our first Kree woman? And our first Kree with hair? Love how the Kree female enforcer has her own musical motif when she unleashes her metal balls of death.
  • So, that shot at the end of season 4 with Coulson looking out to space…….. when does that happen?